The public mental health system serves as a second arm of police-force for the federal government. People who break the law are contained by the criminal justice and penal system. People who break rules not necessarily even written into law are contained by the mental health state hospital system. Our legislators have written this loophole into law, mental health law, that allows for exceptions to be made to the rule of law. Let’s call these unwritten rules, these exceptions, pseudo-law.
Pseudo-laws are laws pertaining to violent pre-crime, in other words, the threat of future violence. The legal definition of insanity invariably targets suspected potential dangers “to oneself or others.” No crime need be committed if one is deemed “mentally ill”, that is, of a violent pre-criminal disposition. People are not locked up because they have any illness, people are locked up because they are perceived of as threats to the public. There is an all too often ignored contradiction here as well in that members of the public are being detained, by a government agency that may be perceived as a threat to them, as a threat to the public.
You cannot separate a section of the population unfavorably from the population at large without resorting to alienation. The proper term for this alienation is dehumanization. This minority population, in other words, must be perceived as somehow different, and therefore, less worthy and deserving than the majority population. Difference is a matter of the degree of unfamiliarity, for this separation is a separation from the basic units of which the larger society is made. Those people are not our families. Those people are the shadows in the closets of our families.
The mental health system is a social control system. The system ensures conformity with certain social rules and regulations by holding over people’s heads the threat of institutionalization if they misbehave. Violence is only the convenient excuse for locking people up. People are not locked up because they actually are violent. People are locked up for having behaved in ways that are deemed unacceptable. The mental health system constitutes a system of rewards and punishments used in order to get these errant individuals back into the conformingly acceptable fold.
Alienated dehumanized second class citizens do not have the same rights as full citizens because we have made laws bypassing constitutional protections with regard to people who fit that category. An obvious example of this demotion of rights can be seen in the case of the military service veteran who must petition the court for the right to own a gun due to a history of mental health treatment. Although our laws may have been envisioned as serving all citizens equally the reality is anything but equal treatment. This circumstance inevitably makes the struggle for equality under the law crucial in the redemption of people damned by professional opinion.
The government now states that it wants universal background checks on all people purchasing firearms. The problems this action is creating are twofold. The names of all people outlawed from gun ownership are to be listed in a federal database that contains the informational ruse used for depriving them of their second amendment citizenship rights. This breach of confidentiality is going to end up harming people in court cases. This also creates a situation where people with histories of one sort or another are literally being targeted for profiling by law enforcement.
Given all the talk about erasing “stigma”, here is another example of reinforcing negative stereotypes and, thereby, creating “stigma”. This is also a matter of prejudice, discrimination, and what both of those movements of mind and body entail, a denial of civil rights. Any denial of civil rights means a struggle to regain civil rights for the people who have had their rights denied. People who have been through the mental health system, and come out on the other side, know this intimately. Their struggle for equality under the law, far from being over, is far from ending.